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DBT and Substance Abuse

In the last 20 years, substance abuse treatment centers have increased featuring Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in the treatment of substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. DBT is a program of treatment that consists of individual therapy, group therapy, and a therapist consultant team. It is an evidence-based psychological modality that helps patients transform old, destructive behaviors and thinking into positive outcomes and mindsets.

If you or a loved one is considering rehab, you may be experiencing difficulties or failed relationships, loss of income and work, health problems, and isolation. Drug addiction can be incredibly lonely, and at times, it can feel like the more an addict tries to change, the worse life gets. As the problems mount, it is common for someone with an addiction to experience an increase in using drugs.

DBT has proven effective in treating addiction as well as providing tools for sustained recovery and overall improvement in the quality of life.

What Is DBT

DBT is a psychotherapy modality developed in the 1980s through Dr. Marsha Linehan’s attempts to create a treatment plan for suicidal women. Dialectic refers to the process of balancing two opposite ideas or values. DBT is most commonly used in the treatment of persons with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It is often used in conjunction with other therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

DBT focuses on the patient developing and implementing coping mechanisms when confronted with environments that bring about destructive patterns of thinking and behavior. Following its success in treating BPD, researchers began looking into its effectiveness in treating people with eating disorders and substance use disorders.

DBT for Substance Abuse

DBT is more than a few therapy sessions; it is a program of therapy. Dialetical Behavioral Therapy is unique as a therapeutic option because it also provides treatment for the therapists to help them be more capable of delivering the necessarily demanding attention required for substance abuse patients.

For inpatient treatment, DBT treatment includes five essential functions:

  • Improving patient motivation to change

This function also serves to help reduce behaviors that defeat a life worth living, such as calling a drug dealer, spending time with friends who are still using, spending time in bars, etc. This function is conducted mostly in one-on-one therapy sessions.

  • Enhancing patient capabilities

Many persons who have a substance use disorder struggle with essential life skills such as regulating emotions, living in the present moment, techniques needed for normalized relationships, and acceptance and survival of unpleasant, distressing crises. This function is applied through weekly group therapy sessions of no more than 10 individuals in which new life skills are practiced in groups and as homework.

  • Generalizing new behaviors

With the skills learned in group sessions and individual “homework,” patients are supported during one-on-one therapy to apply their newly learned behaviors and coping mechanisms in real-world situations. At this stage of the program, patients can phone their therapists between sessions to help the patient through difficult times (such as a crisis or unexpected results).

  • Structuring the environment

The lead therapist, often the one who meets one-on-one with the patient, is in charge of ensuring that the patient’s environment (specifically in-patient treatment) is productive for enhancing and applying the newly learned behaviors. The lead therapist is “in charge” of the treatment team and organizes the treatment facility to be the most conducive for overcoming addiction.

Additionally, this phase also involves helping patients modify their environments. The therapist helps the patient make healthy decisions with regards to who they associate with, introduces them to support groups or communities (such as AA), and ways to avoid friends or acquaintances that enable or promote drug use.

  • Enhancing therapist capability and motivation

DBT practitioners are typically required to have group therapy sessions of at least one to two hours. A form of practice what we preach, therapists receive support in a compassionate, nonjudgmental arena. This function helps therapists to be more compassionate, understanding, and helpful in creating trusting environments for their substance abuse patients.

DBT and Treatment

Boardwalk Recovery features intensive outpatient services, an experienced team of addiction specialists, and best-practices in maintaining an optimal environment for treating addiction. If you have questions about Dialectic Behavioral Therapy or any other therapeutic modality, we are happy to help. Give us a call and speak with one of our addiction specialists.

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